Accountant named as new Granada TV chief

'WHAT CAN you say? It is a terrible comment on the way British television is going.' That was the reaction of one of Granada Television's leading programme-makers yesterday to the news that the post of chief executive, occupied so recently by David Plowright, the grand old man of ITV, has gone to an outsider.

The new head of ITV's most respected programme-maker is a 35-year-old accountant, Charles Allen, who has never produced a television programme or run a studio.

Mr Allen pipped two favoured inside candidates, Steve Morrison, director of programmes, and Malcolm Wall, director of programming.

He is a former colleague of the Granada Group's new-broom chief executive, Gerry Robinson, who did not see eye-to-eye with Mr Plowright, whose mission was to defend Granada Television as an empire within the group.

Mr Allen and Mr Robinson first worked together at GrandMet in 1983, then engineered a successful management buy-out of what became the Compass contract catering division. Mr Allen joined Granada last December, to run its leisure division, and joined the board this summer.

Mr Allen, an informal and personable Scot, lives in Notting Hill, west London, but is now house- hunting in Manchester. He intends to live at the centre of the North-west television region and play a part in its life. He joined British Steel straight from school to train as an accountant. One of his jobs in Grand Met saw him running support systems for hospitals in the Middle East.

Of his new post, he said: 'The role I see myself playing is looking at the business differently, looking at every aspect with a fresh eye.' He talked of opening all the doors to see what new opportunities existed, and to assess how Granada positioned itself within ITV and against the BBC and BSkyB, in which the Granada Group is an investor.

He pointed to the way in which Granada and London Weekend Television had recently merged operations to sell programmes overseas as a pointer to the future.

Granada Television, which employs almost 1,000 people, would continue as a broadcaster and a programme producer. But he wanted to look at ways of developing for the future. Did he envisage Granada changing into a mere publisher of programmes commissioned by others?

'Not at this stage. We are a quality producer, we do produce quality programmes, we have to look at how we take that forward.

'Granada needs to be much more creative. We need to take more risks with our programming, be more creative, look afresh at programmes,' Mr Allen said. 'I don't come in with a blueprint or any new structure. I want to harness the people, empower them to manage the business, work with them. I have no axe to grind. But if there is any change, then sooner is better.'

What would he say to David Plowright?

'I think he would be pleased we are going to develop the business further. You don't run the whole race, you take the company to a particular stage, then you hand the baton on.'

The question is: what state will Granada be in when the baton leaves his hands?